Million lights racing's gloom

20,000 expected today as struggling industry in state puts on best face

Horse Racing

September 21, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The mixture works, like gumbo, and has from the beginning.

Since its inception in 1986, the Maryland Million has served up the most appetizing menu of thoroughbred racing in the state. The Preakness is the biggest, but the Maryland Million is the best day of racing, with its competitive stakes, festive atmosphere and enjoyable between-race events, such as trick riding, jousting demonstrations and Jack Russell terrier races.

Today, about 20,000 people are expected at Pimlico Race Course for the 17th Maryland Million and its 10 races with purses totaling $1 million for sons and daughters of Maryland stallions. Even though Maryland breeders lament the state of the local breeding industry, the Maryland Million is the one aspect that shines year after year.

"The Maryland Million is working," said Cricket Goodall, executive director of Maryland Million LTD. "It's doing what it was designed to do: promote the breeding industry by bringing mares into the state to breed to Maryland stallions. This is the one bright spot in the industry."

Yesterday, The Jockey Club, the sports' keeper of statistics, released preliminary figures of 2002 births that illustrate the trend that troubles Maryland breeders. Of the seven states that produce more than 1,000 thoroughbred foals each year, Maryland was one of only two that experienced a dropoff this year.

Kentucky was the other, declining from 13,693 foals last year to 11,697 this year (as reported to The Jockey Club by Sept. 9, estimated to be about 90 percent complete). That's a drop of 14.6 percent. But Kentucky was ravaged last year by the mysterious Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome that claimed the life of mares and foals.

Maryland's foal crop fell from 1,104 last year to 1,089 this year (again, as reported by Sept. 9), a decline of 1.4 percent. Breeders say the state's foal crop will continue its slide until Maryland's stagnant purses and breeders' program catch up to those in surrounding states. The Maryland Million program keeps the slide from becoming steeper.

"It has been a saving grace for Maryland," said Bob Manfuso, a breeder of nationally competitive horses who owns Chanceland Farm in Howard County with his partner, Katy Voss.

The lure of Maryland Million races, for which breeders, owners and trainers aim for months, only intensifies the disappointment when plans crumble at the last minute.

Duckhorn, the heavy favorite in the $200,000 Maryland Million Classic, will miss the race after a cracked hoof and infection in his right front foot was discovered Thursday, his trainer, Patrick Byrne, said yesterday from Churchill Downs.

"I'd been pointing for this race," Byrne said. "This was going to be his Breeders' Cup."

The defection of Duckhorn, a front-running son of Not For Love, promoted Marciano into the favorite's role. Maryland Jockey Club handicapper Frank Carulli adjusted his morning line and declared Marciano the 2-1 choice.

The 4-year-old son of Two Punch won the Federico Tesio Stakes last year at Pimlico, earning a spot a month later in the Preakness. He finished seventh, 8 1/2 lengths behind Point Given, after a frustrating, traffic-marred journey.

Three months later, another horse's hoof ripped off part of Marciano's right hind foot in the West Virginia Derby. Marciano required nine months healing time. Tim Ritchey, his Delaware-based trainer, said that just now the gray closer is rounding back into form.

"He's run some big, big races, and he's run some mediocre races," Ritchey said. "If he shows up, he'll be tough."

Ritchey also trains Docent, whose odds in the Classic dropped from 5-1 to 3-1. He said the gray son of Waquoit will relish the 1 3/16th miles of the Classic.

The Classic might have featured a filly - had trainer Graham Motion known about Duckhorn. Motion considered entering Your Out in the big race, but didn't, he said, "because Duckhorn was coming."

A 4-year-old daughter of Allen's Prospect, Your Out nearly earned her way into the Classic with a spectacular performance July 21 in the $600,000 Delaware Handicap. She finished second by a neck to Summer Colony, one of the top distaffers in the country.

"I felt if it was a wide-open race, I'd take a shot," Motion said of the Classic. And then he adding, laughing: "Of course, now it is."

But Motion had already entered Your Out in the $100,000 Maryland Million Ladies. Curiously, this will be Your Out's first try on turf after 15 races (seven wins, five seconds, two thirds and one fourth).

Motion said this was a great opportunity to race Your Out against fillies in a restricted race (restricted to daughters of Maryland stallions), after her recent appearances against top-line females.

"She's so tough, this filly," Motion said. "She's just very, very competitive. I just hope that translates to turf."

Facts, figures

What:17th Maryland Million, 10 races for horses sired by Maryland stallions

When:Today. Gates open at 11 a.m. First race 1:05 p.m.

Where:Pimlico Race Course

Purses:$1 million

Highlight:$200,000 Classic, post time 5:44 p.m.

TV:Ch. 54, 4-6 p.m. (last four races live, first six races tape)

Also:Bands, children's activ- ities, trick riding exhibition

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